Mal St. Clair: From High Art to Low

Malcolm St Clair

Today is the birthday of silent comedy actor and director Malcolm St. Clair (1898-1952). St. Clair was raised in a Laguna Beach artist colony founded by his father, a successful architect and watercolorist. He followed in his artist father’s footsteps by becoming a newspaper cartoonist, which led to his being hired at Mack Sennett’s Keystone in 1915 (the fact that he was tall and lean was certainly in his favor). He appeared in size appropriate roles (sometimes billed as “Slim”) in nearly 20 shorts there, as well as the feature Yankee Doodle in Berlin.

He had a brief stint at Roach in 1918 before returning to Sennett and various other studios for a while. By 1919 he was directing. He made several pictures at FBO including six starring Carter de Haven. Two notable early efforts include two Buster Keaton shorts, The Goat (1921) and The Blacksmith (1922), co-directed with the star. By the mid twenties, he was a top Hollywood director at paramount, turning out “sophisticated” comedies with the likes of Adolph Menjou, Pola Negri and Clara Bow.  The most famous of these today is the original version of Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In 1929, he directed the first (silent) version of Harold Lloyd’s Welcome Danger. He continued to direct mainstream but now-forgotten pictures straight through the talking era. His last most notable efforts were four of Laurel and Hardy’s late pictures at Fox: Jitterbugs (1943), The Dancing Masters (1943), The Big Noise (1944), The Bullfighters (1945).

And now The Blacksmith:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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